Today's post is the third in a four-part series on teaching practice skills to students at each level of their development. You can read part one (beginners) HERE and part two (late beginners) HERE.
Today's article is all about practice skills for early intermediate students! Keep reading to see more...
Students at this level are often facing a new set of challenges. This is the level at which many students may be playing their very first pieces of standard classical piano literature, so the demands on their technique and artistry are increasing.
This is the age that many students are beginning middle school and feeling pressure from an increased school work load and demands on their time from extra-curricular activities such as sports. Students may also be starting to plan more social activities with friends or becoming more involved in other hobbies outside of piano.
On top of all that, these "tween" years are also a time when students are growing and asserting their own independence--which means they often have strong likes and dislikes when it comes to piano music!
How can we best help students at this level to stay the course and maintain their progress at the piano? My strategy for teaching students at this level is to focus on problem solving and musical exploration.
Here are my top tips for teaching students at the early intermediate level:
1. Focus on problem solving strategies that will help students approach technical challenges in their music.
If you read my last article on practice skills, you saw some of the general practice strategies I use with late elementary students. Now is the time to help students learn to problem solve for more specific technical challenges they may be facing for the first time, such as:
- Building speed
- Voicing the melody line
- Playing more intricate passagework
- Pedaling more complicated pieces
And the list goes on! Help students plan specific practice strategies for these and other musical challenges so they will know what to do when they encounter these in their music. This will help your busy early intermediate students make the most of their time at the piano.
2. Give students listening assignments that will help expose them to a wide variety of music and help them to develop their critical listening skills.
Regular listening assignments are a great way to not only expand your students' horizons and expose them to new music, but also to help them to listen critically so that they can better assess their own playing.
The "active listening" activities in this blog post are designed to help build critical listening skills by giving students a series of questions to think about as they listen to the music.
I also enjoy introducing students at this level to music from the different historical style periods. This helps students explore the sounds of different composers, as well as to hear how pieces from each style period are performed differently-- a win-win!
You can find my blog posts highlighting resources to help students explore the 4 major style periods at the links below:
3. Encourage students to be involved in selecting repertoire and setting goals for their lessons and for practice at home.
As students become more independent and develop their own personal musical tastes, inviting them to help select the repertoire you work on together can be invaluable! This is probably the most important thing I do to help keep students motivated at the piano long-term. Look for level-appropriate arrangements of favorite popular pieces (check out my catalog site HERE!), or find music in a similar style that is appropriate for your student's current skill level.
Along with choosing repertoire, encourage students to set goals for specific things they would like to accomplish at the piano. Whether the goal is to play a piece by a specific composer, to write their own original piece of music, or to accompany their choir at church--these goals will give students ownership over piano lessons as well as give you valuable vehicles for introducing a variety of concepts that will help students reach these goals.
Finally, encourage students to create their own "practice plan" for new pieces! This will give them a way to apply the practice strategies they have learned, as well as to give them control over the practice process. I have found many students are more likely to follow their own practice plans at home than they are to follow mine!
4. Give students the opportunity to work on pieces independently.
I love giving students at this level "independent study" pieces that they can work on without my help. These pieces are usually a level or two lower than the student's normal repertoire, and I have found them to be a huge benefit in several ways:
- They help students apply the problem solving practice strategies they have learned.
- They give students the opportunity to try out easy repertoire from a variety of genres and styles.
- They allow students to review old concepts and solidify their skills before moving on to more challenging repertoire.
- They can be highly motivating for achievement-motivated students who just want to learn something quickly!
5. Look for ways to give students social experiences at the piano.
The piano can be a very solitary instrument, but it doesn't have to be! Consider incorporating these social activities into your lessons to help maintain interest and encourage practice for students at the early intermediate stage:
- Match up students to play duets and small ensembles.
- Help a student accompany a friend who plays another instrument.
- Plan "piano parties" or informal group classes.
- Look for opportunities to overlap your students' lesson times so they can play for one another or just chat about their favorite (or least favorite!) pieces.
What do you think? What challenges do you face with your early intermediate students? What tips have you found to be helpful? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!